Today I took part in the celebration of the 160th Anniversary of the Diocese of Natal. I was invited by the Dean of the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity and this meant I found my place with about 50 other priests in the procession. I brought both my white and red stole. I supposed that we were to wear red but you never know. But red it was, the 30th November being the day of St. Andrew, patron saint of this diocese. In church red is the colour of the blood of the martyrs. But in Africa red is also the colour of joy!
One little question I have is why this Diocese is called the Diocese of Natal. Since 1994 the province is KwaZulu-Natal. This is something I need to ask someone about.
The celebration had the form of a high mass led by bishop Rubin and the two suffragan bishops. I just want to highlight a few things. First I want to say something about the Blessing of the Water, when lay representatives from different regions carried water from the different parts of the diocese and poured it into a font, with a fountain. It was a nice symbol. The geographical, earthly side of the Church! It was followed through in the Eucharistic prayer with the words:
In your infinite wisdom, you created earth and made it pregnant with new life. You reveal your mighty power to us in the ragged peaks of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg and in the mysterious depths of the Indian Ocean.
It was for the first time I heard geographical names in a Eucharistic Prayer. I liked it!
Second I want to mention the liturgical dance. And especially the two paradigms that met. One the one hand the hierarchical processions, where there are one cross in the front, but then another processional cross for the suffragan bishops and finally two crosses (I think they are called something else) for the diocesan bishop. When the women came dancing in the isle the body language tells something else. Still I like this kind of clashes and mixing of different symbols. It was only when bishop Rubin cracked a joke, saying that the bishops would dance later (which of course never happened) that I felt a bit sad. Had Archbishop emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu been there I am sure he would have joined the dancing.
Most probably the three bishops wanted to take part in the dancing.
Finally I want to say something about the sermon. It was again bishop Rubin who preached. He is maybe not the most radical of bishops but his message was good. The church needs to be a church in mission. He only mentioned one of his predecessors and that was the first bishop of the Diocese, bishop Colenso. I think I will dedicate a separate blog post to him. He was a very special person, at one stage suspended by the bishop of Cape Town, something he did not accept. (More about this later!) He was supporting the rights of black people in the 19th century and got the African name: Sobantu (mening “father of all people” in isiZulu). How fitting that I will preach in the Lutheran Church in the township called Sobantu tomorrow!